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Adapting to Survive: How Lazy Daisy’s Cafe evolved with the ‘New Normal’


Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives, it is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

Basically, ‘Adapt or Die’. A harsh but true adage I’m sure, in the era of COVID19, each of us restaurant owners feels deep in our soup bones.

On Monday, March 16th my team and I decided to close Lazy Daisy’s Cafe due to the increasing spread of COVID-19.  From both a business and a safety standpoint, it felt like the right thing to do. It was devastating. Our new catering platform was taking off and we had a Squarespace website in development to market our new flavoured buttermilk breakfast biscuits. I knew I had enough in the bank to pay my staff their wages as well as my suppliers. Sales had been slowly decreasing over the past week and had taken a steep dive over the weekend. If we continued to stay open for the rest of the month I risked not bringing in enough turnover to pay wages or suppliers and felt it best to cut our losses. Odds were we’d be open again in a couple of weeks, right?

Wrong.

As we saw confirmed cases increase, more and more businesses closed. I knew we wouldn’t be able to open anytime soon. We let our staff go so they could collect EI.

On social media, the community-supported our decision, but behind the scenes, our landlords suggested we change our business model and just sell coffee and muffins to bring in turnover. They sent a letter saying that they were not receiving rent relief on their own mortgage from their lenders, therefore tenants would still be expected to pay rent come April 1st.

Here’s another old adage for you, ‘Necessity is the Mother of Invention.’ Usually, the second half of the month is where we can bulk up our bank account to pay the massive outgoings on the first of the month. But we’d been closed and the cupboards were bare.

I opened Lazy Daisy’s Café almost nine years ago and it’s been a struggle to survive – I’ve loved it and hated it and been through every kind of emotion. I’d worked too hard and too long to give up. Time to get creative.

I assured my landlord’s the rent would be paid in April.  I’d floated my business before and I was willing to invest in myself and my team again.

When I taught entrepreneurship to teens in London, U.K., I explained that successful businesses were often those that provided solutions to people’s problems.

Online, friends complained that they had to wait in long, cold line ups at the supermarket even if they only needed a couple of staple items. The wheels started turning…

Daisy’s was already getting in milk, eggs, butter, flour. Could we start selling these to our customers too? Like a general store?

Our intrepid manager had already started translating our website over to Squarespace so it would be a matter of taking photos of products, pricing, and then going live. But how to keep our staff and customers safe?

I spoke to our landlords who suggested building a wall with a Perspex barrier with a sliding window for guests to receive their purchases and to pay by tap. Contactless pick-up. They also suggested using the rear door in the alley for larger grocery pick-ups. I started to think a little bigger. What if we went old school and people phoned in for deliveries and pick-ups? I could use our car as our delivery vehicle. I checked it out with our insurance agent and they gave the thumbs up.

Building the wall though would be a financial hurdle. The build would cost around $3000. Money that I didn’t have. After some negotiations, the landlords agreed to pay for the wall and give permission for me to place a printed banner on the east wall of the building boasting our new hours, contact details and logo:

Lazy Daisy’s Café & General Store

I had posters and menus printed, adding more pantry staples like hand sanitizer and toilet paper. And as we were licensed, we added a roster of local craft beer, cider, and wines. During our run-up social media campaign to opening day, potential customers suggested they wanted fresh fruit and veg too, so we talked to our suppliers and added those items to our Squarespace site as well.

John, our manager, and I didn’t really stop – we went hell for leather to be ready for reopening Day, Monday, April 13th. We had a skeleton staff, but as we’d reduced our hours and streamlined our café menu to the ‘greatest hits’ (breakfast sandwiches, pancakes, sammies & coffee) we felt we would be okay.

We received overwhelming support from the community. We had phone calls, web orders, Uber and Ritual orders, and walk-ins. It was a total juggling act as we figured out our new systems. We dropped a few balls on the way, but we picked them up again and kept going.

Lazy Daisy’s Café continues to adapt. The government financial supports such as CEBA and the Wage Subsidy are also an important part of our survival.  Our team has been incredible and our community, supportive. I’m very grateful to still be here, doors open, face mask on, hopefully, ready for whatever changes the future may bring.

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